30 May 2011

Memorial Day and National Moment of Remembrance at 3 PM

Arlington National Cemetery
Rest for Our Soldiers
Originally called "Decoration Day" to honor fallen Union soldiers following the American Civil War (1861-1865), Memorial Day marked a more general remembrance of all fallen U.S. servicemen following World War I.

On December 2000, Congress and then-President William J. Clinton enacted S. 3181, the "National Moment of Remembrance Act" (Public Law 106-579), which asks that on this day, Americans everywhere pause for 1 minute of silence, beginning at 3 PM local time, to quietly honor those American men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.

For many families today who have lost loved ones abroad, the day holds even more meaning.

For those who ask themselves what it means to be a patriot, they need look no further than stories like these.

What will you be doing at 3 PM?

23 May 2011

Partitioning and Drugs, Spices, Training, and Fish Oil

Let the Chips Fall Where You Want
When people ask about gaining muscle or losing fat, the implicit questions being thrown out there are "How do I make what I'm eating turn into muscle?" and "How do I preferentially pull from my fat stores?"

These questions ultimately point to nutrient partitioning, an issue that understandably slips through the cracks. And that's okay because we can generally count on  the laws of thermodynamics to strip our physique goals down to the bare-bones basics of eating more or less to bulk up or get shredded, respectively (with heavy training in either context, of course).

However, we do have some pull in getting nutrients to go where we want them to, albeit marginally. Optimization of our food intake, within reason, is the name of the game. Now, it's time to sift through the sand and uncover the gems in partitioning.

Glucose Disposal Agents
Also known as insulin sensitizers or insulin mimetics (mimickers), these include alpha lipoic acid (ALA), chromium, vanadium, cinnamon, and vinegar.

So, the good news is that whole-body insulin sensitivity is improved by the use of any one of the above, and that includes muscle cells. This helps muscle glycogen resynthesis following exercise. The problem: that includes fat cells as well. A contemporary (and bright) theorist once pointed out that the problem with Ceylon cinnamon is that it indiscriminately dumps glucose to whatever cells are willing to take it, but the same can be said for glucose disposal agents in general. In the end, it's a crapshoot, and they don't provide the control over nutrient diversion that we're after.

So, when a study comes out that finds improved post-exercise glycogenesis  using vinegar or, say, caffeine, we must ask if adipocytes are  also enjoying the same benefit. By the way, fat cells have the same GLUT4 (glucose transporter type 4) receptor found on muscle cells that has been implicated as one of the mechanisms in improved insulin sensitivity. Use of these agents would be advantageous to Type 2 diabetics, who have abnormally high blood sugar and could benefit from improved glucose clearance regardless of the route.

Psychotropics and Nootropics
I mentioned caffeine just a while ago, and I'm sure you're wondering why I lumped it in with the insulin mimetics. And you'd be justified; under normal conditions, caffeine actually induces acute resistance to insulin. Not necessarily a bad thing for healthy people; high blood levels of free fatty acids (also called "non-esterified fatty acids", or NEFAs) lower the rate of amino acid oxidation (caffeine creates a protein-sparing environment).

To be thorough, researchers back in 2008 found that post-workout co-ingestion of caffeine with CHO amplified glycogen resynthesis. However, a closer look at the study reveals that the dosing that the protocol called for (around 574 grams of caffeine) was grossly unrealistic. Not safe for application.

Still, caffeine has other merits, and this is a good segue into the topic of lipolysis, respiratory quotient (RQ), and beta-oxidation.

If we can't reliably partition nutrients into the desired tissue compartment, can we at least reliably influence what comes out? The answer to that question is yes.

I once discussed the dual use of yohimbine and caffeine in an older post that has grown quite popular to viewers.

To summarize some of what I said in that post, Y and C make fat release, transport, and burning possible in that small segment of the population dealing with stubborn fat. Y, in particular, is profoundly anti-lipolytic and has implications in fat burning at rest.

That's because resting lipolysis is under the control of the alpha-adrenoceptors, and Y conveniently blocks one of them (the one most intimately linked to fat release).

In fact, a study referenced in the clinical pharmacology section of the Proceedings of the British Pharmacological Society showed Y to enhance not only exercising, but also resting, lipolysis. In other words, it may even be useful to dose yohimbine at rest.

That's great news for couch potatoes watching their ESPN or surfing the Internet all day. And due to Y's mechanism of action, I'd expect any additional fat oxidation to be meaningful because the fat is actually reaching the mitochondria unimpeded (this has to do with a phenomenon known as fatty acid cycling, which I'll save for another post).

With that said, depletion training or restricting carbs (or both) would further improve fat oxidation by lowering one's RQ, which is influenced by muscle glycogen levels. That would conceivably magnify Y's effects.

Find a brand with a good amount of EPA and DHA.
Fish Oil
While the acute benefits that fish oil supplementation was purported to have never panned out, a mere 3 weeks of supplementation did reduce cortisol levels, which might minimally improve partitioning.

However, it could be argued that fish oil supplementation would also blunt the perks that come with YC ingestion: heightened catecholamine levels and blood FFAs. Yohimbine also significantly increases cortisol secretion, but its anti-lipolytic effects outweigh any negative impact it has on partitioning. Clearly, both sides must be weighed and a poison picked if one is to facilitate his or her physique goal.

And by the same token, the myriad of health benefits conferred by fish oil, in addition to its newfound effects on increased protein synthesis and sensitivity to amino acids (Martin Berkhan  recently expounded on these in exhausting detail), makes it a legitimate tool in altering body composition.

GLUT4 and the Controversy of Carb Cutoffs
How the last meal before a carb cutoff might look.
The idea of cutting out carbs from one's meals before it got too late in the evening gained quite some notoriety several years ago. I first heard about the practice from advocates of Doggcrapp, or DC, Training. Because thermodynamics trump the "carb cutoff" rule, it just wasn't necessary to resort to macronutrient separation.

However, if we are nitpicking, GLUT4 sensitivity is higher during the first half of the day than it is the latter half. Short-term fasting (assuming no stimulant use) increases this effect. Considering this, the body is technically less receptive to the downstream effects of insulin on GLUT4 translocation and subsequent glucose uptake as the day wears on.

But then we return to the crapshoot model of generalized insulin sensitivity, where fat cells are more likely to soak up the glucose as well. So, more likely than not, the timing and composition of meals (excluding a low carb diet's effect on lowered RQ) is a moot point.

A food hedonist's carb-centric haven.
The dietary practice with probably the most diverse range of partitioning effects is the carb-centric refeed, which is leveraged extensively in Lyle's Ultimate Diet 2. But it needs to be coupled with the right kind of training, which happens to be the key factor in getting the right kind of partitioning to happen, and without which the carb load would be fruitless.

In The Ketogenic Diet, Lyle used research to give a rough guideline of fat intake concurrent with the carb-up that likely wouldn't go toward storage, assuming full glycogen depletion. I will issue a similar recommendation: don't restrict, but don't go to excess. By the way, the nature of the fat being consumed affects the insulin response to a meal (unsaturated fats attenuate the response, but saturated fats amplify it).

A Concentric-centric Mindset
My childhood buddy Ryan at 16.
string of studies in the 90s revealed the detrimental impact of eccentric exercise on glycogen resynthesis.

On the other hand, it is the concentric portion of contraction that generates improved partitioning (the "metabolic stress" model of training). This is the reason that Bryan Haycock advocates "pulsing" in his novel HST (Hypertrophy-Specific Training) protocol. Training is one of the few things that can preferentially improve GLUT4 translocation on muscle cells. That and the inhibitory effect of exercise on fat lipoprotein lipase (LPL) and acylation-stimulating protein (ASP) within the fat cell make for a hard case for improved nutrient uptake into the fat cell.

In the end, only some of the above mentioned techniques aimed at improving nutrient partitioning are actually worth investing time, energy, and money in.

Training and refeeds are the winning ticket to diverting incoming calories away from adipocytes and shuttling them toward muscle cells instead. Their prudent application can be more readily appreciated for those bulking up.

But fish oil and YC also carry great utility in the contexts of health and fat loss, respectively (also, fish oil, as Martin mentioned, has implications for sarcopenia in the elderly). They may not directly influence partitioning per se, but they are worthwhile toys that may be taken out of the box when the time calls for it.

19 May 2011

Shotgun Foray to Radisson Hotel, Morning Mishap at MEPS

Unexpected Call
Speak of the devil. As I was finishing my last entry yesterday, I got a call to be at the station by 1330. Got ready in 15 minutes and zipped out of there. The shuttle (a van) was still picking up other Soldier Hopefuls along the way. I boarded the van, and off we went to our destination.

It was 6 of us guys. I still remember their names*: Julian, Matt, Ichabod, Icarus, and Iago. Julian, who sat next to me, was going in as an MP (military police), Matt and Ichabod as EOD (explosive ordnance disposal).

As of 2005, the passing rate at MEPS is 3 in 10 applicants. 30 percent. In that van, 2 of us would make it on a good day, and I wasn't sure how that statistic would be affected by the fact that the physical fell on "mission day", the last day of the month for MEPS to meet their projected quota for processed applicants.

At the Radisson
4 of us were dropped off at the hotel to check in before the other 2 were taken straight to MEPS to take the ASVAB. We passed by a young man sitting on the curb having a cigarette who pointed us to the check-in lounge. We signed in, were given our meal tickets and room keys, and told to meet back at the lounge at 2030 for briefing.

Turns out my roommate was the man I saw smoking earlier. Bennett is a Jake Gyllenhaal look-alike, very chill and reserved. He was previously an AF depper slated to ship to Lackland as a cryptologic linguist - my preferred job. A wet and reckless charge got him DEP-discharged, and now, 2 years later, he is reenlisting in the Navy. Today was his 4th time at MEPS.

Had dinner with 2 other guys at 0700. One wants to join the Army as a mechanic, and the other is an Air Force prospect. Later, we headed to the briefing. All in all, we were 40 men and women. 6 failed to show up.

Curfew was at 2230. We would be awakened the next day at 0400. The bus would arrive at 0410, and breakfast served beginning at 0415. We were to board the bus at 0440 and arrive at the Sacramento Military Entrance Processing Station at 0515. Oh, and the Gideons indeed were at the hotel passing out New Testament bookets. They really do do it without fail.

Neither Bennett nor I had much sleep last night.

At Sacramento MEPS
I'll say this now: my time at MEPS was short. I did not make it very far. My recruiter pushed me through as a walk-on, which I explained to the Army Liaison. He had me take a seat and processed the other guys.

Turned out my status was still "Deferred" according to the electronic log. Under my name, 0 documents had been submitted by my recruiters as of Wednesday. But just today, the log had registered 5 submitted documents; there was a lag time before MEPS received what my recruiters sent them. Still, as they had not yet reviewed my situation, I had to be sent home. At 0530, I had to call my recruiter to ask him to pick me up.

I sat in the waiting room watching Forresst Gump until Sgt. Balaban arrived.

A Talk with Sarge
My recruiter, who doesn't look to be much older than I am, received an earful from the liaison.

Here's the scoop: my recruiter had already called me last week telling me that my papers were deferred pending review by MEPS. Yesterday's trip to the hotel was supposed to have been postponed. For some reason still, the station commander at the office told my recruiter to go ahead and push me through the system, which didn't make sense to my recruiter. But the chain of command is the chain of command, and so he did.

The misunderstanding came from someone whose decisions overrode both my recruiter and the station commander's instincts to hold me back until next week: the 1st Sergeant, 1SG. So, it was something in the higher ups that screwed up my trip, and subsequently my emotions.

But that's okay. I'm prepared for another trip to the hotel and MEPS.

Balaban made a pit stop at Battalion HQ to deal with some business before dropping me back off at my car. On the trip back to the station, I got to know him a bit more.

He has a brother who was in the Marines and a dad  proud of his son but who still thinks he's an idiot for joining. Balaban himself has been deployed twice to Iraq with an artillery MOS but has some stories a crazy infantryman would tell you. On days his unit wasn't assigned to patrol, they'd get creative with killing time (not exactly along the lines of Jarhead, but creative). He had his first son before his second deployment, and a second is on the way.

I'm trying to understand why he'd rather be deployed than home. But it seems like others can't explain the compelling impulse to be deployed either.

Following is an exchange between 2 Soldiers in an EOD team from the 2008 film The Hurt Locker. The men are Staff Sergeant William James and Sergeant J.T. Sanborn. Tearfully, Sanborn says,

"I'm done. I want a son. I want a little boy, Will. I mean, how do you do it, you know? Take the risk?"
"I don't know. I guess I don't think about it."
"But you realize every time you suit up, every time we go out, it's life or death. You roll the dice, and you deal with it. You recognize that, don't you?"
"Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I do. But I don't know why. I don't know, JT. You know why I'm the way I am?"
"No, I don't."

*All names in entry changed for privacy reasons.

Job Reservation and Recruiters Against Civilian Doctors

Waiting to sign on the dotted line


Name: Martin

Job: 35F1

Title: Intelligence Analyst

Term: 3 years, 30 weeks

Ship Date: 20111121


Type: BT
Location: Ft. Jackson
Start Date: 20111128
Length Wks: 12
Length Days: 4

Type: AIT
Location: Ft. Huachuca
Start Date: 20120312
Length Wks: 16
Length Days: 4

School: 301st Military Intelligence Battalion"

Because Army recruiters have access to something called the FSR2 - the Future Soldier Remote Reservations System - they can reserve a job even before their applicants' visit to MEPS. That's what happened for me.

That's the good news. Here's the bad: applicants have 7 days from the time they reserve their job through FSR2 to to pass the physical at MEPS, contract, and swear in. That gives me until next Monday to do that. And if I don't, I lose that job slot, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I'll explain in my next entry.

I was supposed to go to the hotel today (Wednesday), but my recruiter called me yesterday informing me that he wasn't supposed to project me to MEPS before their approval. This resulted in a deferral of my visit, and because of the reservation deadline, Sergeant and the other recruiters in the office are trying to push me through in time. I'll be getting a call from my recruiter ASAP. The wait is killing both of us.

16 May 2011

A Ticket to Sacramento MEPS for My Physical Examination

U.S. Army Job Selection
After a 2nd visit today to Sarge's office that involved more paperwork signing, my recruiter gave me a list of currently open jobs and asked me to rank my top 3.

My picks:
1. 35 Fox, Intel Analyst
2. 35 November, Signal Intel-Analyst
3. 68 Whiskey, Health Care Specialist

After some discussion, I went with my first pick. With that, my recruiter reserved my slot for MOS 35F, Signal Intel-Analyst pending additional mental, moral, physical, and administrative screening, and booked my ticket to MEPS.

The Trip to MEPS
I will sign on for 3 years, 30 weeks with a signing bonus of 2000 dollars payable upon my assignment to my first permanent-duty station, PDS, after boot camp.

I was projected before 1200 today and will report to my recruiter's office this Wednesday, 18 May 2011, at 1300. From there, I'll be picked up and taken to the hotel near MEPS to room with a fellow applicant for the night.

The following day (the physical) will begin early at 0415 and end around 1730 with job selection and  the swear-in ceremony. I'll contract as an E-4, Specialist. The contract is legally binding and will mark my entry into the DEP.

My Ship Date
My ship date to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, is 21 November 2011. That gives me a little over 6 months in the DEP to prepare for boot camp. At Fort Jackson, I'll spend 12 weeks, 4 days undergoing basic training, BT, before going through 16 weeks, 4 days of advanced individual training, AIT, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona for my job.

I'll officially complete training on 03 March 2012 and  be assigned to my PDS. It would be nice if I were given my preferred station that was filled out on my dream sheet, but I'll gladly serve where I'm needed.

I'm excited to serve and hope that MEPS will grant me this privilege.

09 May 2011

The Army, the Warrior Ethos, and Basic Combat Training

On Friday, I called an Army recruiting station to schedule a visit that took place today, 09 May 2011, at 1000.

As I'd been through the process before, I sat through what would have amounted to several weeks' worth of paperwork in a day.

My new recruiter is an E-5 (Sergeant) and has been in the Army for 6 years now.

Upon being asked by one of the recruiters what I would be doing this coming Friday, 13052011, I explained that I wasn't sure if I was scheduled for work (but that I would have no problem calling in sick if they needed me to be available). "You're joining the Army on Friday, Buddy," was his reply.

The exchange was surreal. My Air Force recruiting experience has caused me to develop a wary disposition regarding one's odds of getting into the military. But the Army recruiter pointed out that the Air Force has been downsizing for some time now, which can explain the night-and-day difference between their recruitment processes.

I didn't expect the quick turnaround, but I am hoping to be off within 2 weeks. Assuming all goes well with my pre-screen, I'll go to MEPS, have my physical, select my MOS (military occupational specialty, the equivalent of the Air Force Specialty Code), swear in, get my ship date for basic combat training (BCT), or boot camp, and finally enter the DEP.

I first learned and memorized the Warrior Ethos, or Soldier's Creed, in an Army ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) class I took while at university.

At that time, I had already begun the recruitment process for the Air Force and adopted its ethos, the Airman's Creed. I never thought I'd make the transition from blue to green.

Part of the urgency with which I've been moving stems from issues with my ASVAB scores, which expire 2 years after taking the test. It's already been 8 months since I took it, and though I still have time, I just want to make extra sure that I'll be enlisted well before they become null.

With a new set of physical fitness standards to strive for, I'll be preparing myself for the 10 weeks of BCT at 1 of the 5 forts in the Southern and Midwestern United States where recruit training is conducted.

Today was both exciting and scary. I feel closer to serving than I've ever felt before, but I also hope that the recruiters didn't just put a whole lot of false hope into my head. Here's to hoping.

06 May 2011

Bonnaroo Buzz with Whiskey Caramel Swirls Is a Buzzkill

. . .And I don't mean the festival.

The characteristic flavors in this new ice cream from Ben and Jerry's are "light coffee and malt ice creams with whiskey caramel swirls and English toffee pieces". That description caused me to put Clusterfluff, another new flavor, back on the shelf, so that I could try this.

I could find no difference in taste between this and an older flavor, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. The coffee flavor was overpowering, and (I can't believe I'm saying this) the toffee pieces were so large they messed up the overall texture of the ice cream.

So, until I come across a worthy ice cream flavor, I will continue to frequently default back to either Imagine Whirled Peace (a total of 1080 calories and 12 grams of protein) or Half Baked (800 calories and 24 grams of protein), one of the company's FroYo varieties. I've been meaning to try Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack, which, despite its strange combination of flavors ("vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and fudge covered potato chip clusters" - wtf), showed a lot of promise when I sampled it at the shop.

In other news, I weighed in at 161.8 lbs on my electronic scale yesterday. I am taking this to be my fully carb-depleted weight. I've been subsisting on delicious MSG-laden peanuts, peanut butter,  spam salad (literally, it's chopped up spam with salad), and protein shakes. Along with the yohimbine and caffeine, I feel like I'm about to have an anxiety attack. This better be worth it.

02 May 2011

Thermal Sympatholysis, Adrenoceptor Blockers, and Fat

Ice cream and fireworks.
Ice Cream Haven
Last weekend, I joined the family on a trip to Disneyland.

This past weekend, I went with some friends to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. In semi-keeping with the blog's theme, I found myself in Shangri-La amidst a ton of desserts from the snack carts at both parks, including funnel cakes with Cold Stone ice cream and strawberry syrup, Ben and Jerry's, frozen bananas, and Dippin' Dots.

Thermal What?
It was notably sunnier at Discovery Kingdom than at Disneyland, and my lengthy exposure to the heat brought about a remarkable change in my appearance: I was profoundly more vascular in my extremities than before. I could clearly see the large cephalic vein running down my biceps in addition to the multitude of veins in my forearm.

My veins in my legs were terrifyingly superficial in a degree I'd never seen before (which explains why it was terrifying). I had veins running horizontally across my tibia (the shin).

It makes sense: one of the reasons that blood vessels dilate is to increase the dissipation of heat. Consequently, blood flow is improved.

And, in the context of fat loss, what else improves blood flow (or, at the very least, prevents it from being compromised)?

Alpha Blockers
The answer is yohimbine.

So, I have a theory: to speed up fat oxidation following yohimbine supplementation, ideally one might want to promote vasodilation throughout the body during the period between ingestion and actual absorption of the drug, which would conceivably open up all avenues for fat oxidation in active tissues. This would mean either performing a small training bout, sitting in a sauna, or laying out in the sun. As exercise has variable effects on drug pharmacokinetics (and it depends on the drug), it is possible that the results would be more unpredictable following the former option.

And then, once yohimbine begins to be absorbed, you do the usual: be active. The conventional, but boring, route, is to do some formal cardio, but one can also do chores, work (and it obviously helps if the job requires you to be active for hours, like certain retail positions), or walk around in an amusement park all day while under the sun.